Recently the University of Duhok in Iraqi Kurdistan renamed Kalaf Zebari hall to Peshmerga Hall. For those who do not know the Peshmerga are the military that has defended the Kurdish region from both external attacks and internal such as Saddam Hussein’s military and most recently ISIS. Khalafe Zebari on the other was a Kurdish intellectual, who also happened to be a former Peshmerga fighter. This change has caused considerable consternation in the region. While it is understood that it is right and proper to honor the Peshmerga who have sacrificed much for the Kurdish people, why remove the name of an honored intellectual and poet who himself sacrificed for the Kurdish people. Having uprooted himself and his family several times, first to escape the tyranny of the Saddam era then to secure a future for his family in the US. Lastly, he once again uprooted his entire family to move to Washington DC to begin Voice of America Kurdish broadcasts.
This last gave great comfort to the Kurdish people, not only in Iraq but Turkey, Syria and Iran. Bringing news, information and hope to the suppressed people of Kurdistan. Joining him was his wife, Chiman, who in addition to VoA worked with a number of US and international agencies supporting Kurdish and regional refugee programs as well as US government operations in the region. I’ve known Chiman Zebari for a decade and have worked with her closely so I know her loyalty for her people. My interest in this began as I read posts on Chiman’s FB page. While I do not read Kurdish and the google translations leave much to be desired, I understood the gist of the story.
While, as said. it is right to honor those Peshmerga who gave so much. There are a number of ways to do this, and they have been done throughout the Kurdish region. The University of Duhok, being an institute of higher education must not forget the contributions made by the poets and intellectuals. Return the name of this man who gave so much to support the intellectual freedom of the Kurds.
Today the world is holding its breath to see the response of the United State to an anemic attack by Iran on Iraqi bases housing Americans. The Islamic Republic launched around 15 missiles at targets in Iraq, some of which were shot down most of which missed the target. The attack was in response to the killing by the US of an Iranian terrorist and commander of an Iranian terrorist group.
Some say the Iranians missed their targets on purpose in order to avoid a major retaliation by the US. The Iranian FARS news network at one point said up to 80 Americans had been killed. The US is saying no casualties. While there may have been no US casualties there were Iraqis injured. So, what is next.
This is also being called a face-saving device so that the Iranian leadership, playing to a domestic audience, can show that they took decisive action to retaliate for the US actions. The operation was called the “Martyr Soleimani.”
The fact is that the death of Soleimani was a major blow to the Iranian ability to continue to export the Islamic revolution. The technical capabilities of Iran have increased in the last few years but the war fighting capabilities are far short of what they need to engage in any protracted war. This however will not fully deter the actions of Iran since there war model has been to use proxy forces to carry out limited attacks on selected targets.
The belief that this is a one-off operation does not track. The anger in the Islamic Republics leadership is very strong and revenge in their history. The President in his statement announced additional sanctions on Iran and justified the strike that took out Soleimani. The foreign minister of Iran told the world that this missile strike was proportional and served it purpose. This is difficult to believe since Iran has been attacking anyone or any country it sees as an enemy for 40 years. What may be considered is that Iran may not launch attacks by its forces from Iranian soil again. The standard Iranian tactic is to use proxy forces which gives them deniability.
The President also said that it appears that Iran is standing down, not sure what that means, in fact the next day there was an attack on the Green Zone in Baghdad. I expect to see a lull, which means back to normal, and then a spike in attacks in Syria and Lebanon as well as a potential Hamas or Hizballah attack on Israel. The Iranian dominated Iraqi militias will continue to act independently of the Iraqi government and under the control of Iran.
It should also be pointed out that the missile attacks were aimed at bases in Sunni and Kurdish areas. This tracks from past IRGC controlled attacks by the PMF militias. Soleimani’s main objective has been to spread the Islamic revolution, increase Iranian hegemony and remove the US (west) from the region. This last is important to understand, Iran sees little to no difference between the US and other western nations yet will continue to manipulate those western nations for trade.
Short of all out war with Iran the US needs to adjust it position in the region in order to continue a US presence as well as be prepared to defend US interests and allies. Based on the resolution of the Iraqi Parliament to seek to have all US forces leave one solution would be to move the US embassy from Baghdad to Erbil and ask the Kurds to hold another referendum on independence, and this time back them up fully. Kurds as we have mentioned previously are the only true allies the Americans have in the region. A truly free and independent Kurdistan would be a game changer. Removing US forces from Iraq would be a financial blow to Iraq and a political blow to Iran and Turkey.
With Soleimani out of the way Iran does not have a replacement of his caliper. Much of the control and personal contacts may begin to weaken and allow for the different actors to operate on their own. Beside the Kurds, the Sunni in Iraq have been victims of the Iranian control of Iraq. It is within their power to vote for autonomy and break away from Baghdad. What has stopped this in the past was not Iran but the US which maintains a one Iraq doctrine.
While so many are saying this is going to lead to World War III I would reiterate that the Iranian are in no condition to wage an actual war. As for terrorist attacks Iran and the IRGC are the leading exporter and planners of terrorism already. The Iranian government is facing a dilemma with a shift in the way the American government is reacting, holding Tehran accountable for the actions of its proxies, and the widespread protest in Iran and Iraq. This is in fact the perfect time to apply maximum pressure. The only thing that is working in Iran’s favor is the US House pushing a new War Powers Act exclusively to stop any action by the US in the event it is needed.
We need to build a strong coalition that will truly isolate Iran and end the regimes reign of terror. It is time for the majority of the government to understand that to do nothing now will result in a greater loss of national security then what they can understand in their current state.
The current crises in Washington is the decision by the president to pull US forces out of Syria and thereby ending the protection we have afforded to our Kurdish allies. In the middle of the arguments the president daughter in law, Lara Trump, made a statement in support of the president that said the average American had to Google the Kurds to find out who they were. This set off a firestorm of criticism justified or not. The main problem with the statement for many is that it is basically true. Even those who know the Kurds do not fully understand who or what they are. In order to educate we think it time to produce a Kurdish primer, or at least one about the current Kurds.
To begin the Kurds are an ethnic group not a race and have occupied the area commonly referred to as Kurdistan for over a millennium. They share no common history or culture with those surrounding them other than through interactions with their neighbors. As the region was incorporated into the Ottoman Empire, they became subjects of the Caliph but, like most throughout the empire, maintained their identity. Like many groups there were fissures and differences which can be seen today most glaringly in the different dialects of spoken Kurdish, some argue different languages. Throughout this time Kurdish culture remained intact. Following the end of the First World War the Kurds were divided up amongst three separate countries, Turkey, Iraq and Syria, while a portion remained in Persia or todays Iran. The Kurds have fought for a separate country ever since. As the Kurds became more independent, they began to develop separate political philosophies and parties.
To put into context the Kurds are not a monolithic group but like all other people in the world hold different political views and opinions. They have shown however they are different then their neighbors by allowing for different philosophies and different ethnicities to coexist in the Kurdish region.
The Kurdistan Democratic Party (KDP) is the oldest of the modern Kurdish political movements. Founded in 1946 as a Pan-Kurdish party in Iran it was instrumental in the creation of an independent but short-lived Kurdistan known as the Mahabad Republic. When the Soviet Union removed its backing the tow leaders Qazi Muhammad and Mustafa Barzani had a final falling out and Barzani established the Iraqi brand of the KDP.
The KDP was mostly operated as a tribal entity and existed by the strong will and stronger hand of Barzani. The back and forth relationship between the KDP and the various governments in Baghdad led to a revolt in 1974 in which the Kurds did not fare well. Results of the revolt on the Kurds led to the establishment of a second party in 1975, the Patriotic Union of Kurdistan (PUK). Despite personal difference between Barzani and the leader of the PUK, Jalal Talabani, another difference was philosophical. The KDP was more tribal and center right while the PUK held a more socialist left drift. This split was so severe that it led to a brief but violent civil war between the two parties with the KDP looking to Baghdad for help and the PUK turning to Iran.
While the KDP and PUK never fully reconciled the actions of Saddam Hussain in his attacks of the Kurds killing hundreds of thousands did push the two sides together in the face of a common enemy. The Persian Gulf war allowed for a greater sense of autonomy until once again Saddam launched attacks on the Kurds as well as Sunni Arabs. After the US led invasion in which the Kurds play an important role an autonomous Kurdish region was set up and then enshrined into the Iraqi constitution.
The newly established Kurdish Regional Government (KRG) now sits in its capitol Erbil and is the acknowledge government for the Kurdish Region of Iraq. There are a dozen different political parties represented in the Kurdish parliament for the KDP and PUK to Gorran (Change), New Generation, as well as the Communist party and the Kurdistan Islamic Group as well as others.
We have spent some time on the Iraqi Kurds since they are the best known to the American audience. We now turn to the Turkish Kurds who as a population represent the largest group of Kurds in the Region.
While Iraq treated its Kurdish population as second class citizens the Turks refused to even admit that the Kurds were a separate ethnic group. Denying the use of the Kurdish language or celebration of Kurdish culture the Turk went so far as to rename them Mountain Turks. While the Iraqi Kurds evolved the Turkish Kurds responded to their oppression by the formation of the Kurdistan Workers Party or PKK. The PKK grow from the revolutionary youth movement begun in the 1960 and was organized in 1974 as a Marxist-Leninist student movement. Moving through clashes with both police and right-wing organization it became a full-blown armed insurrection based on Kurdish nationalism and desiring a Pan-Kurdish nation. The PKK has gone through some evolutionary changes but remains basically an armed revolutionary group based in the Qandil Mountains of Iraq moving between attacking Turkish outpost and working for a peace agreement. This has been on going for 30 years. On the political side there have been a number of parties that have been associated with the PKK. The current party is the Peoples Democratic Party (HDP). HDP has had success in elections even winning a large number of seats in the Parliament in the 2015 general election. The ruling party under the current President Erdogan canceled the results and held new elections which reduced the win. Following which leaders of HDP in parliament were striped of their seats and some imprisoned under the claim of being or supporting terrorist. Most recently several mayors of towns in the Kurdish region were removed and replaced with Turks.
The PKK was chased around the region and at one time were in Syria until Turkey forced the Syrian government to get them to leave. Before leaving they establish a Syrian branch of the PKK which became the Democratic Union Party or PYD. This has allowed Turkey to claim the PYD as a terrorist organization and part of the PKK. While calling for autonomy of the Kurdish regions in Syria the PYD has learned the Lesions of the PKK and have mostly cooperated with the Syrian government until the time of the Syrian civil war. The PYD used the disarray in Syria to establish an autonomous government but did not engage in the war against the Assad regime itself. It has rejected Kurdish nationalism and maintains a Kurdish-Syrian identity. Like many parties in the region it maintains an armed force called the Peoples Protection Unit of YPG and an affiliated Women’s Protection Unit or YPJ. Today the Turkish government is unable to separate the PYD from the PKK in its operations which has led to the current violence. It is difficult also for some in the west to make the distinction because of a similar socialist ideology.
Another which Turkey claim’s is affiliated with PKK, is the Iranian Kurdish group the Kurdistan Free Life Party or PJAK. PJAK started out as a civil rights movement in the Kurdish region of Iran and moved to a violence when attacked by Iranian forces. Pushed out of Iran they set up in the Qandil mountains in Iraq and came under the influence there of the PKK. While adopting socialist ideology it is not known has much the PKK can influence PJAK away from its desire to maintain Persian roots.
Most Kurdish parties in Iran are outright communist or very left. Also, most are breakaways form other parties with the oldest being the Kurdistan Democratic Party of Iran.
Not all parties are mentioned is this article and much of the history has been severely modified, but as Lara Trump said it can be Googled. This brought us to a conclusion that the average is not up to date on geography, or the Middle East. We can point out so many television shows interviews where the average American on the street when asked about the past and present US presidents are clueless so we are not shocked about Lara’s statement as so many Kurds are. Education plays a big part in this case. The only thing that unites most Kurds is a call for a homeland. We are speaking of upwards of 40 million people without a nation. To dismiss any attempt to achieve autonomy is to ignore history. Regardless of what happens the Kurds, will continue to fight for independence within their respective regions. While it is unlikely that a united Kurdistan can be achieved it is possible to create separate Kurdish states that can work in confederation with each other. Giving in to Turkey will not stop the desire of the Kurds to be free. It is time that the United State, Unite Kingdom and other countries stand up for Kurds, those who claimed Kurds are their allies, those who used Kurds to push the Islamic State (ISIS) out of Iraq, and defeated them in Syria. Kurds shed blood for the world, it is time for everyone to step in and support the establishment of an Independent Kurdistan. President Trump made many harsh statements in the past a few days about the Kurds, first he mentioned that they are no angels, and then he said they got paid a lot of money. This angered Kurds tremendously. As president Masud Barzani replied to his statment, “Kurdish Blood is more valuable than money and weapons.
Chiman Zebari is a Kurdish American author, and human rights activist. She was an analyst for the US Intelligence Community. She has also worked for the US government in other capacities and was a broadcaster for Voice of America.
Paul Davis is a retired Military-Political analyst for the US Army as well as a civilian analyst in the US Intelligence Community with a concentration on the middle east with an emphasis on the Kurds. He is currently an Adjunct Professor at the Institute of World Politics in Washington DC.
The hypocrisy of the west knows no bounds. The murder of Saudi journalist Jamal Khashoggi is a prime example. There is no doubt that the government of Saudi Arabia murdered Khashoggi at their embassy in Turkey, we all accept that as fact. That the world should be outraged is not in question, but that Turkey led the original call for justice is the height of hypocrisy. An opinion piece in Newsweek in September called Erdogan’s Turkey the worlds biggest prison for journalist. While true numbers are hard to come by the estimate is that between one-third and one-half of all journalist imprisoned in the world are sitting in Turkish jail cells.
The murder of Khashoggi was a despicable act, of that there is no question, the reaction however could be said to be excessive when put in the light of other events around the region. The moral outrage from the press and the call for the United States to punish Saudi Arabia is valid, but it has dominated the headlines and has been politicized. The facts are that Khashoggi was a Saudi citizen who engaged in actions that opposed the Saudi government and especially the Royal family, which is a crime in Saudi Arabia. He was technically executed on Saudi territory, inside the embassy, under orders from someone in the Saudi government. While this violates international norms and laws it does not violate Saudi custom of an absolute monarchy. Let’s look at the region.
Staying with Saudi Arabia, criminals can be executed by beheading for crimes that range from murder to adultery and vary from blasphemy to homosexuality. There were 146 executions in Saudi Arabia in 2017 and according to human rights organizations the number rose by over 70% in the first quarter of 2018. The kingdom also imposes other punishments such as stoning and lashes for crimes, all of which violate international norms. The world knows of these barbaric practices and yet continues to ignore them, likely for the sake of oil.
Turkey, once a shining light of democracy in the region, has devolved into a dictatorship where the rule of law is up to the capriciousness of politicians and judges. Based on political beliefs or ethnicity, Turks as well as foreigners are tried and sentenced to long prison terms with no transparency or right to defense. This system has been used to silence and imprison not only journalist but political opponents as well as shut down opposition news papers and news outlets. Foreigners traveling to or transiting through Turkey are subjected to searches of there computers and other electronic devices for anything that may be anti-Turkish and subject to arrest and prosecution if materials are found. While widely publicized in the United States the arrest and detention of US Pastor Andrew Brunson on trumped up charges are just an indicator of how Turkey subverts its laws. Less well know is the case of German journalist Mesale Tolu who was held in detention for months on terrorism charges but was allowed to leave the country in order to leverage the German government. There has been no call from the world or US politicians to punish Turkey.
Iran is without a doubt the worst abuser of human rights in the region if not the world. There is no covering up the crimes, in fact they seem proud of how they treat their citizens. Their interpretation of Islam and sharia law allows them to do so under the guise of religion. There is no free press or even freedom of expression. Recently a young woman in protest stood up and took off her head covering, she has been sentenced to 19 years in jail. Not long ago a 16-year-old was stoned to death for crimes against chastity because she was raped. The war against the Kurds is ongoing, declared terrorist or apostate Kurds are hung every day in Iran, woman are stoned to death and the jails are filled to over capacity by Iranians and foreigners. The jails are filled through the use of closed courts and unknown charges, while the world objects to these actions they are more then willing to allow them to continue in order to do business. There is no outcry for protection of the innocent. While the Trump administration has withdrawn from the Iran deal and reinstated sanctions the rest of the world objects to these actions and continues to deal with Iran.
Iraq has abandoned all pretense of a true legal system and has subverted or ignored its constitution. The highest court in Iraq was to be appointed by the government with apportioned seats so that all of Iraq was included. This has never been done and the court that rules is left over from the Saddam regime. Recent activities have included the illegal attack on Kirkuk and other disputed territories following a legal referendum in the Kurdish region that the central government disapproved. This was preceded by more then a decade of ignoring article 140 of the constitution calling for resolution of the problem. Illegal use of private militias such as the PMF and the suppression of individuals and groups is the norm, and yet the world ignores this in hopes that Iraq can be held together and some how become a functioning democracy.
There are many countries that violate human rights or operate outside of international norms and are ignored by the world, but this must be addressed. The world is getting smaller and cultures are clashing harder. This is not to say there should be a culture war, but moral outrage cannot be a light that is turned on and off for the convenience of governments. Saudi Arabia should be held accountable for the extrajudicial execution of Jamal Khashoggi, it should also be held to account for its barbaric justice system. Turkey and the others as well should be made to address their systems. The UN’s Universal Declaration of Human Rights should be a key not just a document. It was once said that human history would be much less bloody if we were as upset over the death of millions as we can become over the death of one individual.
It was the best of times, it was the worst of times, but in the end the results were predictable. The first of the two elections, Iraq, did have an element of suspense and surprise following the electoral win of Muqtada al-Sadr’s Saairun Alliance winning 54 seats in Parliament. While a good showing for Sadr it was not enough to secure a majority, 165 seats, in Parliament. This has left the door opened to a wide range of maneuvers to secure power that are taking place now. The next election to be discussed was the Turkish election, while there were attempts to make it appear to be an actual free and open election it lacks the drama of Iraq and was more predictable. Following President Erdogan’s call for snap elections there was much said and written that through his recent attempts to subvert Turkey’s democracy that he had opened a window for the opposition to consolidate and remove his power. This of course presupposed the existence of a democratic government in Turkey. Like Iraq the winner, the AK Party did not win a clear majority and will assume power with the help of the ultra-right wing MHP. Unlike Iraq however the AKP will not be controlled by its alliance with MHP and in fact has moved closer to an inescapable one-party dictatorship. The results of the Iraq election are still not clear and may not be for some time. With the world, and donors, watching the Iraqi government made a valid attempt to run an open election. In the end however old habits die hard, if at all. The Fatah Party, an alliance of Shia militia under Iranian control had secured the second most sets, 47, and under the direction of the IRGC Quds force commander Qasem Soleimani have proceeded to work to build a Coalition that will be, if not under control of Tehran, very friendly to Iran. The use of electronic voting was intended to streamline the process and discourage vote fraud. Following the elections many of the losing parties cried foul and demanded a manual recount. With the Council of Representatives took it upon themselves to call for a recount, even though they had no legal authority to do so, it became apparent that regardless of the legitimate will of the people who voted the decision will be made by the power elites, many of whom would loss power if the results were sustained. With the acquisition of the courts the recount will be done, even though after a period of time it is not yet determined when and how long it will take. What has been determined is the results will be questioned and never fully accepted. At the outset parliament had set conditions that would not recognize Peshmerga or IDP votes from the Kurdish region, this however was overturned by the courts. Other conditions however have gone forward including percentage reduction in results from polling stations as the failure to address the presence of PMF at polling stations used to discourage voter participation. The loss of paper ballots in a fire in Baghdad as well as attacks on election commission sites in disputed territories has made any results now invalid. With all of this the results must be accepted as reported in the beginning and the fact that Iran will be in charge of the Iraqi government must be accepted by Iraq as well. This of course does not hold true for the rest of the world. Donor nations may decide or be shown that the election does not in fact reflect the Iraqi demographic and world powers need not support an Iraqi military that is under the control of a foreign power and operating to the detriment of the population. Before all this however a final count must be given, and the government formed. The only other alternative is to have a new election which comes with its own set of problems. Turkey is another story. Forgetting the AKP accidentally released the results days before the election, the activities of the government have made the election and the results illegitimate. Many of the opposition candidates are in jail as well as reporters that could cover the election for the opposition. News papers and other media outlets have been shut and polling stations moved out of reach for many, particularly in the Kurdish region. There is no surprise that Erdogan won a majority what is surprising is that the HDP won enough to be seated. This of course may well be temporary given the history of Kurdish victories. While it is not yet a rump parliament Erdogan has very little to fear in his march to complete one man control Turkey. His rule will not be disputed and we see that regardless of the existing problems all parties accepted the results. Between the two elections the Iraqi results are the most likely to be a true reflection of popular sentiment. A rejection of the current power elites and a call for change. Regardless in the intervening time the will of the people has been subordinated to the will of the elites. The recount will, without a doubt, strengthen the Shia/Iranian parties and the government will be formed that will continue to ignore the people and the constitution. There will be strong opposition voices but they will be heard as background noise to the Iranian masters. The current upheaval in Iran however could cause major problems in Baghdad. Without money and guidance from Tehran chaos may ensue. This last will likely not be immediate but is worth a mention. The impact of Turkey’s election however will be more immediate and likely deadly. With little to stand in the way Turkey can continue to its military adventures in Syria and Iraq and expand them without fear of internal interference. The continued crackdown on internal enemies will likewise continue unabated. This slide away from any form of democracy constitutes a greater threat to the region then the confusion in Iraq at least as far as the west should be concerned. Turkey is a NATO country and as such its actions reflect on the alliance as a whole. While there is little the other nations can do to influence the internal operations of a dictatorship there is no longer any reason to pretend it is anything but. The run up to this election should have indicated to all the type of country Turkey has become. In Iraq the actions of the government prior to the election, to include the illegal attack on Kirkuk, as the actions following the election, attempts to disenfranchise minority populations are also good indicators to the rest of the world the direction Iraq is taking. Like many other countries in the world Iraq is, on paper, a constitutional republic. Unlike other countries the Iraqi government does not seem to see any reason to read or follow its constitution. Again there is little the world can do to impose any external control on the government in Baghdad. The one area that some leverage could be derived is in the will of the people. Iraq has shown in this past election both the peoples desire to have a say in the government and the aftermath has shown the elites have no intention in giving it to them. The US leads the call for a one Iraq but forgets its own past. The American colonist had been strong in their determination to remain part of England, only asking to be given the full rights of Englishmen. When it became apparent that they would never be treated as full citizens of the British Empire they declared and fought for those rights an independent nation. Today in Iraq we also see that a large minority does not have the full rights of Iraqi citizenship and the world must come to recognize this. If the election shows the west anything it is that the west has lost Iraq, it is time to allow what is going to happen, happen and support those who will find their own way to freedom. As has been said by many, elections have consequences, its time to accept those consequences and react properly to them.
“APPEASEMNET” Giving into someone in order to avoid potential conflict”
As my readers know I like to connect current events with their historical forbearers. It has always amazed me how many people can recite George Santayana warning that “Those who cannot remember the past are condemned to repeat it,” and how few live its caution. Today in Kurdistan we are witnessing a repeat of history which bought the world to a great war and in the end introduced us to the atomic age.
Following the devastation of World War I most of the world was exhausted and did everything to never have a major war again. The war to end all war was not, and the mechanisms set up to prevent the next war failed. They failed because the participants refused to accept the fact that there are times when force must be used to stop a greater violence.
The League of Nations and its member states set up high ideals and moved forward with great expectations, but when faced with actual crisis that revolved around its main charter it proved incompetent. The attempts at resolving the problems through diplomacy or attempts to bring the parties to the table were an absolute failure. The inability to resolve the Japanize invasion of Manchuria, or the Italian assault on Abyssinia (today Ethiopia) as well as both the league and the great powers to respond to German rearmament, and the reoccupation of the Rhineland and Europe conceding the Sudetenland, all in the hopes of evading war. One action of the league that may have been considered a success was the resolution of the Mosul question, rejecting Turkey’s claim to the province of Mosul as historic Turkish territory and awarding Mosul to Iraq under a British mandate for 25 years to ensure the autonomous rights of the Kurds. The intent however did end as failure.
The result of all this was that the aggressor nations of Germany, Italy, Japan, and the Soviet Union saw the weakness of the world and exploited it. The League of Nations was toothless without the British or French military and the leaders of those nations were still so traumatized by the last war that a military option to any problem was just not considered.
Today we see much the same happening in the Middle East. Aggressor nations have been testing the west and finding it war weary, attempting to extract itself from current confrontations while avoiding new ones. While viable diplomatic solutions are advanced, with no threat of war they are simple rejected. When they are successful, such as a ceasefire in Syria, it is temporary and used to rest and rearm the combatants.
Iran is currently the most dangerous aggressor by far. Its direct use of its military through the IRGC and indirect use by proxies including Iraqi Popular Mobilization Forces, Hezbollah and Hamas. These forces have given Iran control of Iraq and Lebanon as well as much of Syria. This control gives Iran a land bridge from Iran to the Mediterranean. It has effective control of Iraq and Lebanon and Syria.
How could this happen? Let us continue the lessons from history. Consider the disputed territories in Iraq as the Rhineland/Sudetenland of the 1930’s. Germany marched into the Rhineland to diplomatic outrage but no action and then used diplomacy to take the Sudetenland without Czechoslovakia’s input or presence. These last are examples of the west failing to stop aggression in the hopes of stopping aggression. When Iraq, under the direction of Iran, violently seized Kirkuk and the other disputed territories from the KRG without warning, the west allowed it in the hope of ending aggression.
Following failed diplomacy and a worthless embargo of Japan the Japanized attacked Pearl Harbor with the intent of reducing the US military and removing its power from the Pacific. Japan had shown itself to be ruthless in its military conquests prior to Dec 7th ,1941 and continued it brutality up until the end of the war. The Iraqi PMF has shown itself to be brutal with the mass slaughter of Sunni civilians following its occupation of cities such as Fallujah. This has continued even into the disputed territories. The US can stop this by extending military protection. Recently however the PMF have declared the US military as the new targets and the leader of Sadr’s militia, Abdullatif al-Amidi, has called on the Iraqi parliament to force the removal of all US forces from Iraq.
In the end this will result in an eventual all out war in the Middle East. This war will not be confined to the current areas. As we have seen, Saudi Arabi has been pulled into the battle in Yemen and is under attack by forces trained and supplied by Iran. The leadership of Iran has also said that the next war will result in the destruction of Israel. Russia has already staked out its claim in Syria and Turkey is drifting rapidly into dictatorship set on recovering at least part of the Ottoman Empire (Mussolini was intent on reestablishing the Roman Empire.)
It is always hoped that war can be avoided but history has shown us that diplomacy works best when both side understand that there is a military option available and that the other side is willing to use it.
In northern Iraq there is an area known as the Kurdistan Region, a self-governing area comprised officially of three governorates, Dohuk, Erbil and Soleimani, four unofficially with the addition of Kirkuk. The Kurdish people are a separate population with their own language, customs and culture. As was most of the Middle East they were part of the Ottoman Empire for 600 years, until the end of the First World War. Following Turkey’s defeat, the allies, France and England, divided the Middle East into separate countries. The division was not intended to right any past wrongs or concerned with cultural or linguistic differences, but to serve as new colonies for Europe, with interest in oil production. The Kurdish people saw this as an opportunity to become a free and independent country and such was promised by the Treaty of Sèvres that ended the war with Turkey and was designed to break up the Ottoman empire. For reasons best left to your own research a second treaty, the Treaty of Lausanne was written, and the hope of independence was removed. The Kurds have been fighting for the right to their own country ever since.
On September 25th, a referendum will be held in the Kurdish region to determine the desire of the Kurdish people to seek full independence from Iraq. This referendum is expected to pass by greater than 95%. Then what?
Most western nations, including the United States, have opposed Kurdish independence for many reasons. Some of the reasons are political such as Turkey will be opposed, others are emotional such as the entire Middle East will fall apart if we allow for a separate Kurdistan. This last assumes a stable region, which it is not. These arguments have been made and discussed and dissected for many years and I will not go into the reasons why Kurdish independence should be opposed or argue the points others have put forward in opposition. I intend to simply argue why there should be a free and independent Kurdistan.
What makes a country/nation is a combination of a common language, common culture and shared values, or simply stated a uniqueness that sets them apart from others. Without this uniqueness, there is always problems. Forcing different people to adopt other cultures or languages has proven to be disastrous. For many years the Kurdish language was not allowed in the Kurdish regions of Iraq. Kurdish culture was suppressed and the Kurds themselves were removed from their homes and replaced by Arabs from the south. Surrounded by Arab states, Turkey and Iran, Young Kurds do not speak Arabic, Turkish or Persian. While most Kurds are Muslim there is a thriving Christian community of Kurds as well as Yezidi (a culture all its own). There is also a diversity of political thought, not always as readily accepted, but accepted. Nowhere else in the region will you find such a wide-ranging acceptance of diversity.
After centuries, we see the desire for independence in the Scots and prior to this the Irish, today we also see the continuing independence movement by the Basque . Currently we have seen a resurrection of older nations in eastern Europe such as Serbia, Bosnia, etc. The common thread has been language and culture. Iraq is not a natural country, it was made-up by foreign powers. The Kurds have nothing in common with their Arab neighbors, not language or culture or history. To allow the regional population to redraw the boundaries is not earth shattering but natural. Is Kurdistan perfect, no. Will there be problems, yes. But at the end of the day it’s the right thing to do. As a nation born of revolution and a desire to be free we have an obligation to help this new nation in every way possible. At the end of the First World War President Wilson made it clear in his 14 points that “XII. The Turkish portion of the present Ottoman Empire should be assured a secure sovereignty, but the other nationalities which are now under Turkish rule should be assured an undoubted security of life and an absolutely unmolested opportunity of autonomous development…” Kurdish children are more familiar with Wilson’s 14 points than most American adults.
It is time to fulfill the American promise to the Kurds.
The world is becoming more divided then it has ever been. Much can be attributed to the modern age shrinking the world. News media and internet access allows for more information as well as misinformation flow. Misinformation and disinformation drive the world today. It is normal human instinct to divide into groups. These groups then distance themselves from the other groups. Our group becomes “us” their group becomes “them.” Sooner or later one group becomes jealous of the other and demands what the other has. This leads to war. War in ancient times would lead to the subjugation or annihilation of one group by the other. As man became more accustomed to dealing with “them” different resolutions came to pass. Paying taxes or tribute was enough to allow “us” to leave “them” alone to continue to grow. More recently we have returned to the violence of us vs. them. When one group is of the opinion that they are more than right, but anointed. The most obvious case is ISIS. It is their determination that they are the sole interpreters of Islam. Anyone or any group that thinks otherwise is to be killed. This is justified by the fact that the violent act is done in the name of virtue. It is in fact altruistic. In his book “Not in God’s Name” Rabbi Jonathan Sacks indeed calls it altruistic evil.
Examples of the us and them problems are evident across the world, not to the extent of the ISIS implementation, but bad. Brexit is an example. The people of the United Kingdom chose to leave the European Union based on an “us vs. them” viewpoint.While it started out as an economic union, the European Common Market, it became a political union in 1993. By the early 2000’s there were already rumblings of discontent due to the rules and regulations coming out of Brussels. The influx of refugees from Syria and North Africa exacerbated the problem because of the EU’s open borders. This at least was the excuse given as the union began to have growing pains. The fact is that it became “Us vs. Them.”Europe is a continent not a country. It is filled with different languages and cultures. While everything was going along fine there was no problem. Then came the Euro crisis with Greece, Italy, Portugal and Ireland. This opened up the first cracks and this has brought us to today. There are other examples today of “Us vs. Them.” In the United States we have the Black lives Matter movement pitting black America against the police. An in Iraq we have the problem of Kurds vs. Kurds.
The “Us Kurds vs. the Them Kurds” is not new, we only have to go back the 1990’s to revisit the Kurdish Civil war. KDP vs. PUK. In this time regional powers played the Kurds against themselves. Saddam playing the KDP off of the PUK which had Iran’s backing and Turkey pulling strings to keep the thing alive. Today much of the old animosity remains. While the Kurdish people are at the best time in history to declare independence and have a country, they are forming up against themselves. The old social “Us vs. Them” is coming to once more deny the Kurds a homeland. While there is no doubt that much of the feelings are genuine it also must be considered who has the most to gain from this.
In many cases there are legitimate concerns. While it is easy to argue the limits of a Presidential term it is harder to argue rule of law. There is no constitution for Kurdistan, it’s still in draft. With no law there is really no limit. There is an agreement but all sides seem to maneuverer around that whenever they want.The Kurds are then facing the dilemma of who is right and who is wrong. But when it is “Us vs. Them” the answer is always easy, we are right and they are wrong. When one side or the other entrenches themselves in righteousness it becomes impossible to extricate yourself from a position, it also becomes easier to be manipulated.
The current crisis between KDP vs. PUK/Goran will not lead to a position that either side actually wants. The outcome should be become a unified country, a single entity, then start from scratch to build a nation. This is difficult, it requires that the past be relegated to the past. Masoud Barzani was never the President of an independent Kurdistan, so the past is forgotten. The KDP, PUK, Goran and the rest were never a sitting body for an independent Kurdistan, so a new government is formed. The other options are to do nothing and maintain the status quo, or move on to violence which is the typical end of an entranced “us vs them” problem. A full out split of us and them into a SW Kurdistan and SE Kurdistan. Ultimately these last options will result in a stronger neighbor absorbing the geographic region and the Kurds just go on fighting each other.
Until the Kurdish people can become one and together “Us,” and relegate Turkey, Iraq, Syria and Iran to the status of “Them” there will not be a chance to become Kurdistan. Until Kurdistan the rest of the arguments amongst the Kurds are meaningless.
A recent Column of mine, reproduced below, spoke to the impact the Iranian deal will have on the region including Kurdistan. Today I would like to expand on this in light of the death of 3 year old Aylan Kurdi. I think first off we need to restructure the facts. Aylan and his family are Kurds from Kobane and did leave the village. However they left three years ago to go to Turkey after fleeing the fighting. They had lived in Damascus, then Aleppo, before going to Kobane. What this means is that the start of this tragedy is directly related to the Assad regime and its Iranian supporters. Without Iran’s direct support to Damascus it is likely the regime would have fallen and young Aylan would have been born in a time of peace. It has now become likely that the executive agreement President Barrack Obama presented to the US Congress will be enacted, not by congress whose majority rejects it, not by the people of the United States, whose majority reject it but because 34 Democratic Senators will allow the president to have a sustained veto. The fighting will go on as 34 senators allow the release of billions of dollars and remove the sanctions on the largest exporter of terrorism in the world today. There have been and will be many more Aylan’s, not only in Syria or Turkey but in Iraq, Lebanon and Iran. Unless another becomes this visible most will not be seen and the tragedy will go unnoticed. I repost this as a reminder of what is happening and a warning of what will become.
How will the Iran deal impact Kurdistan?
Posted on NRT English 7/22/15
The recent agreement between Iran and the E3/EU+3 will have long term consequences on the region, including Kurdistan. The aspect of stopping Iran’s march to a nuclear weapon aside, the removal of sanctions will allow an increase in Iranian mischief in the region. The world at large has taken little notice of Iran’s brutal treatment of its Kurdish population, and will be even less concerned once commercial trade is reopened.
The immediate impact to Kurdistan will come from the anticipated $150 billion windfall that will come from the immediate release of sanctions. Iranian President Hassan Rouhani announced the increase of the budget for the IRGC from $6.5 billion to $9 billion and the agreement removes the IRGC and its commanders from the sanctions list. This will allow the IRGC greater capability to arm and control Shia militias in Iraq, and further reduce Iraqi government control of its internal security.
How does this effect Kurdistan? This strengthening of Iranian influence will have a serious impact on the relationship the KRG has with the government in Baghdad. The KRG budget is busted and Kurds across the region are under increasing pressure from ISIS. The strategy of Iran seems to be to maintain chaos in the region in order to justify its military assistance to Shia militants, such as Hamas and Hezbollah, as well as in Iraq. To this end, it is in Iran’s best interest to keep ISIS a threat to the region, in a defensive position, but not defeated. Kurdish Peshmerga forces have shown a great ability to stop and defeat ISIS fighters but are potentially running short of supplies, with Baghdad under increasing influence of Tehran, resupply for the Peshmerga is doubtful. European nations have lately filled the gap but some of the bigger donors, such as Germany, will soon be looking to reestablish commercial ties with Iran, which may leverage this desire to reduce support for the Kurds.
Beyond the crisis for the Peshmerga, Iraqi Kurdistan is under increasing internal social and political pressure. With a faltering economy and calls on the current leadership to become more democratic, the road is open for Iran to ferment discord. With an influx of money to one of the political parties and a promise of military aid, Iran could weaken and split Kurdistan while keeping attention on the external threat of ISIS. Turkey would also likely join in with an eye to increased ties to the Iranian energy sector and the increase in natural gas from Iran. If Turkey can benefit economically from the removal of sanctions and see a reduction in Kurdish influence, it would solve two problems at once.
Whether or not Iran keeps to its deal to reduce it capability to produce a nuclear device is years down the road. The impact of sanctions relief however is imminent and for Kurdistan potentially dangerous. If the non-nuclear aspects of the agreement were removed, it would benefit the region and Kurdistan
Much has been said and written about the current crisis in the Kurdistan region of Iraq that does not entail ISIS. On August 20th the term of office for President Masoud Barzani was supposed to have ended. In fact is was supposed to have ended two years earlier but was extended by the Kurdish Parliament. Because the term of office has ended, and there being no new elections, the question of legitimacy of the presidency is in play. Kurdistan has been called the model that the rest of Iraq should follow. For the last ten years it has seen economic growth and relative peace and stability. There have been rough patches and problems both internally and with the federal government in Baghdad. Currently the region is under tremendous threat from external sources. Both the terrorist group ISIS and Turkish incursions have put tremendous pressure on the Kurds and their government. Battles with the central government over budget sharing and oil sales have left the Kurdistan Regional Government cash strap and unable to pay its own people or army. Today however opposition politicians and a youthful diaspora see the main threat to Kurdistan as whether or not Barzani has a right to remain in office.
There are some areas which must be addressed. First: Barzani called for elections last June. This may have been a political maneuver knowing that it would be next to impossible to achieve. The electoral board did say it would take six months to set up, to date no elections have been scheduled. Second: When submitted to the Kurdistan Consultative Council, part of the Kurdish government’s Ministry of Justice authorized to provide decisions on legal disputes between government agencies, it was determined Barzani could remain in office for two more years. This decision was met with rejection by those Members of Parliament opposed to Barzani. Third: prior to the next election opposition MP’s want to change the constitution to reduce the office of the President to one of little power, only a ceremonial office responsive to Parliament. Last: but assuredly not least, is the burning problem that all of this revolves around constitutional questions, when in fact there is no constitution. The draft constitution was never ratified as required and its authority is still pending.
From a Western perspective constitutions are the supreme law of the land. Amongst other things constitutions set up the forms of government and delineate the powers of the different branches. Under the draft constitution of the Kurdistan region the office of the president has executive authority and the president is elected by popular vote, with a term of office limited to two four year terms. The parliament is elected buy single person vote of party lists and there is to be a Supreme Court, called the Constitutional Court of Kurdistan in the draft constitution. This last is a serious deficiency as there currently is no court. Under the draft constitution the courts functions are.
The Constitutional Court shall have jurisdiction over the following matters:
Explain the stipulations of the article of the Kurdistan Region’s Constitution.
1- Monitor the constitutionality of the laws, based on a request from the President of the Kurdistan Region, the Council of Ministers, ten members of Parliament, or any concerned party.
2- Decide the legality of decrees, regulations, resolutions and instructions, based on the request of any concerned party.
Many opponents of Barzani are calling for rule of law to be applied while his supporters are saying he is within his legal rights to remain. The Constitutional Court would be the natural venue for resolution, if it existed.
The big questions now are, does the Parliament have the authority to do anything? Does the President have the authority to do anything? Under what authority does the Kurdistan Regional Government exist? What law rules? Both the parliament and the president are operating under de facto authority which can be extended or removed by the will and whim of political power.
“Kurdistan does not have a constitution and it does not have a high court that is dedicated to its interpretation or looking into such sovereign issues. If this battle became a legal one, there is no mechanism in place to make a final decision on this.”
“It’s the politics that decide what happens to the law, rather than the law deciding what happens to the politics. Everything here is politicized, and this issue is a political one,” said Dlawer Ala’Aldeen, president of the Middle East Research Institute (MERI), a think tank based in Erbil.
I am not putting forth a legal argument for the retention of Barzani nor am I suggesting the Parliament do nothing to move the region forward. I am suggesting that there are a number of very serious issues facing the region that must be dealt with before two branches of government clash over power. First the region must be made physically secure, ISIS must be defeated. Second the economy must be energized so that the people can survive. Next either make peace with the central government or declare independence. The Kurdish people deserve a functioning government. They deserve what was promised them at the end of the war. They deserve freedom. I would quote the four freedoms from FDR’s 1941 State of the Union Speech, the people must have:
Freedom of speech
Freedom of worship
Freedom from want
Freedom from fear
If an election can be held, hold one. If you want to amend the constitution ratify the draft you have and then amend it, or write a new draft and get that one ratified.
It has been pointed out that all of the opposition parties, not sure how they are opposition since they control 51% of parliament, are opposed to Barzani continuing as president, then why can’t they come together and pass a resolution, or at least put one forward. Please for the sake of the people put politics aside and move forward.